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Building a Democratic Culture through Elections in Sierra Leone

Building a Democratic Culture through Elections in Sierra Leone

In spite of some of the remarkable advancement Sierra Leone has made in terms of developing our democratic culture since the birth of democracy in 1996, more still needs to be done in our electoral system which sets the pace for a serene democratic culture and dispensation. The country’s young democracy has to its credit conducted three democratic elections, even though one cannot totally vouch for the free and fare nature of the 1996 and 2002 Tejan Kabbah sweep of the polls; but they were nevertheless the genesis of what we now enjoy in the guise of a growing democratic culture.

However, despite the apparent successes in the conduct of elections in 2007 and the subsequent local government elections in 2008, a number of challenges were identified during the electoral processes that call for immediate and speedy attention. Identifying such problems and working out solutions for them will mean a lot as the cradle of any democratic dispensation stems from the conduct of a democratic election that will leave all and sundry convinced of the basis of the country’s democratic process formidable and will inarguably fosters the peace and socio economic development the country craves for and greatly needs.

Basic to these challenges is the derisory capacity and aptitude of the National Electoral Commission (NEC) to conduct National Elections and referenda on its own. The problem is the Commission has been operating without its home grown competencies and as a result a dependency syndrome on hired professional at costs that the commission can not afford has been created. This was evident when in the last general elections in 2007, expatriates were hired by the United Nations Development Programme to help NEC with the fundamentals in the conduct of the election. This problem has to be solved if the basis could be set for the conduct of a professional and independent electoral process that will guarantee the growth of sustainable democracy in the country.

If we are to develop a professional and sustainable capacity of the Sierra Leone NEC to enable it carry out its mandate to conduct all public elections and referenda in the country, provide training opportunities for all stakeholders in the electoral process, and develop the much needed national democratic culture; then much has to be invested into developing the commission’s resource-base and as well as invest into developing its human resources base.

The focal point should be the development of sustainable staff that can serve in all areas of intervention by the NEC. This would mean that we do away with the perennial dependency syndrome and as well as cut future costs incurred in hiring foreign expertise and will help the commission to be able to operate within its funds when donor support would have be cut out in the near future.

Then we would want to see that this development is expanded upon by ensuring that there is a Training of Trainers Programme in Civic Education who in turn will serve as agents to spread the needed awareness to the rest of the country electoral suffrage and stake holders. Information is power and hence the Development of Effective Management Information System (MIS) for the commission will be of great advantage as this will create a composite environment to tackle and learn from acquired that will be useful for many purposes such as the transparent and simplified conduct of an election. 

The commission’s capacity must be enhanced to enable it to undertake the promotion of public sensitization and civic and voter education geared at expanding democratic participation, particularly for women and other under-represented segment of society; Support greater engagement to Civil Society Groups

Until such are put in place we will not be made to achieve the aim of having less rejection of the elections outcomes and the much craved for peaceful transition of power was experienced in the last general elections.

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